Supporting the Whole Student: Lesson Learned from a Year of COVID-19

Recently, I spoke with one of my mentee principals about the impact of the pandemic on his students’ learning and performance. We talked at length about the numerous challenges the past year has presented. As we were ending our discussion, I asked if he learned any positive lessons. Upon reflection, he said that during the pandemic, he and the staff were forced to build stronger support systems to reach far beyond the normal classroom instructional setting.

After navigating through the pandemic, team members began placing a higher value on the importance of forming positive relationships with every student. In other words, as a team they placed more emphasis on attending to the total child by providing food, clothing, and community resources to help families in financial and emotional need. Consequently, by realizing that student stress levels and feelings of isolation were exacerbated by the reliance on distance learning, the staff became more empathetic. Making students feel good about themselves as learners became a top priority.

As students begin to return to traditional classrooms, we can capitalize on this learning. Most educators already know that providing a positive, nurturing environment is critical to students’ growth and academic success. However, teachers may not consistently implement the systematic, structured strategies proven to increase students’ confidence in themselves as capable learners. During the pandemic, instructors were taught how to be more intentional about bolstering students’ self-perception of being capable learners. Unless the online teachers incorporated specific strategies to make students feel that their individual learning needs were acknowledged, learner engagement dropped and progress came to a standstill. 

Two key elements of the  5 Legged Model, attitude and perception, are closely aligned with building students’ capacity to see themselves as effective learners. First, when teachers incorporate techniques daily to build their students’ willingness to give their best academic effort, engagement will increase and purposeful student reflection will grow. Second, when students feel encouraged to openly communicate their ongoing level of understanding and any misconceptions, students feel more valued. The learners are more willing to actively engage and build a better conception of what proficient work looks like, as well as what level of engagement and effort proficient work takes.

Our research shows that a key element in achieving this conducive learning atmosphere is the formation of strong teaching and learning partnerships. When students feel supported and respected as learners, they perceive themselves as more capable and tend to thrive. As students return to traditional classrooms, we must continue to prioritize making students feel special to help them fill any learning gaps. Several recommendations follow:

  1. Acknowledge student effort even when students have misconceptions. This is critical to developing a strong self-efficacy and an understanding that mistakes are a key part of the learning process.
  2. Have students reflect daily on their academic needs and confidence levels. Use these reflections to guide instruction and support.
  3. Ask clarifying questions like “What is clear to you after this lesson?”, “What one question do you still have?”, “What else can I do to assist you with this lesson?”
  4. Have students track their growth so they have evidence that their learning is progressing.

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